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The Role of Radical Skepticism in Madness and Recovery

When we feel sane, we believe we possess accurate ways of knowing reality. Hidden within this understanding however lies a curious circularity. When asked how we know our method of discerning reality is correct, we inevitably circle around to asserting that our method can be relied upon because it arrives at the correct result, and confirms what we know to be true!

But what if the whole circle is in error?

At times, we may become deeply skeptical, or even paranoid, and lose trust in that circle. Then, it may seem that solid ground disappears, and so we tumble in an abyss, or madness In this “cloud of unknowing,” it may seem that nothing is real, or that everything is real (since anything now has as much seeming claim to reality as anything else.) Or, overwhelmed by the infinity of possibilities, we may grasp onto some alternative “mad” reality, or swing from wildly positive to terrifying perspectives.

Since it was radical skepticism that led into the abyss, it may seem that climbing out would require a rejection of skepticism. But without deep skepticism, how can we question our mad perceptions or beliefs?

An alternative is to continue to value skepticism, but now in a flexible way that also allows for skepticism about skepticism itself. Then we can balance having definite perceptions and ideas about reality with an awareness that they may also be completely wrong.

Currently, the mainstream approach to helping the mad involves maintaining an absence of skepticism about dominant forms of “sanity,” paired with complete skepticism toward finding value in madness. But recovery might better be promoted by helpers who can accept the lack of a solid foundation for knowledge, and who instead promote a lively evolving dialogue in which all, including the mad, have something to contribute.

Below is a link to a talk on this subject I gave on 11/7/21, for the ISPS-US Annual Conference.

I hope you do check out the video, and let me know what you think!

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